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Five Functional Foods
Boost your energy this spring with these nutrient-dense go-tos.
Whether you are heading to a Pilates class or out to an indulgent sushi dinner, maintaining optimal energy levels is essential to function. Fueling the body with high-quality nutrients will not only provide you with short-term energy, but will also contribute to minimizing cellular breakdown and longevity.
When deciding which foods to consume throughout the day, it is important to consider how those nutrients will be broken down and ultimately metabolized and utilized for energy. Eating foods high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants will all contribute to beating the afternoon slump and to sustaining energy levels. Check out the five foods below for a nutrient-dense meal that will be sure to keep your energy flowing and prevent “hanger” in between meals and in midday meetings.
Oats Jumpstart your metabolism and create lasting energy for the day with a bowl of steel-cut oats. Oats are full of vitamins and antioxidants, including magnesium, which helps to calm nerves, calcium, which can lower stress, and B vitamins to encourage energy production. Oats are also packed with soluble fiber, which helps fill you up and keep your blood sugar on track. Save time in your morning routine by making overnight oats: Add oats, almond milk, 1 Tbsp. of almond butter and berries in a mason jar and refrigerate overnight for an easy, nutrient-dense breakfast that you can grab on the go. Maximize your oatmeal by adding a scoop of plant-based or grass-fed whey-based protein powder, 1 Tbsp. of peanut butter or chia seeds. Gluten-free? No need to omit oats, as you can find certified gluten-free oats easily online or in your grocery store.
Berries are considered a functional food as they are high in antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C, potassium and folate. They are also nature’s candy, sweet and extremely versatile. When shopping, choose berries that are in season or buy organic freshly frozen berries to easily add to breakfast smoothies and post-workout shakes. The natural sugars in berries also make them a delish dessert. If you’re ever craving ice cream, try adding mixed berries to a low-sugar naturally sweetened yogurt and freezing for 15 minutes for a lower-sugar, lower-fat, energy-dense treat.
Salmon may be best known for being a quality protein source with a high level of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower overall risk of heart disease, reduce joint pain and improve brain development and function. However, salmon is also a good source of B vitamins, including vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B12, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and niacin. These work together to support your body’s metabolic rate, produce energy and aid in fighting disease and infection. Salmon also contains tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, which helps to regulate your mood. The presence of vitamin D also aids in boosting energy levels as it is linked to the efficiency of mitochondria, the “power stations” within your body’s cells. Bake salmon with lemon-garlic pesto sauce and serve over zucchini noodles for a shockingly delicious dinner. Trade in your tuna for a salmon salad and mix with avocado instead of mayonnaise, adding celery, capers and even grapes if desired.
Quinoa is a superfood powerhouse. In addition to being gluten-free, it is a complete protein and provides a good source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B1 (thiamin). It’s also an excellent source of magnesium, zinc, iron and folate.
Quinoa is an easy-to-make base for any meal that will contribute to maintaining high levels of energy throughout the day. Quinoa, a super alternative to rice, is useful as a recovery food for athletes, providing quality macronutrients. Eating whole grains such as quinoa helps to increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which maintains the steady release of fuel, preventing spikes and drops in blood sugar levels. There are countless varieties of quinoa and all are delicious when added to stir-fries, salads or enjoyed on their own. Try quinoa and spinach salad with strawberries, walnuts and avocado for a nutrient-dense, energy boosting meal. Quinoa can be a gluten-free alternative to oatmeal, too.
Beets are unique because they are edible from the root all the way up to the leafy greens. They are naturally high in sodium nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide expands the walls of blood cells, giving them the opportunity to absorb more oxygen and produce more energy. Beets are high in slow-releasing sugar, which helps balance energy levels, while still being low in calories.
Additionally, studies have shown that the antioxidant and bioactive compounds in beetroots can reduce inflammation, oxidative stress and reduce risk for chronic disease. Beet shots are commonly used with both professional and collegiate athletes. Try roasting beets and adding them to salads, quinoa or blending into a bright beet hummus for a midday snack. You can also try shots of beet juice or add to smoothies and fresh juices.
Stacy Goldberg is a nationally recognized nutritional consultant, registered nurse and the CEO of Savorfull, a Detroit-based company that sources healthy, allergen-friendly foods and provides nutrition-consulting. Savorfull is part of the Quicken Loans Family of Companies.